When I found out I was pregnant I knew immediately I wanted to breastfeed my child. I am product of the 80’s, when it was said to mother’s that bottle feeding was much more hygienic and safe for babies, when family act leave was a long stretch away (I mean, maternity leave in this country is still a far stretch away, but that’s a subject for another post), and pumping wasn’t really a thing. Therefore, my mother chose to bottle feed, knowing she would return to work 6 short weeks from my birth. I like to think that both my brother and I turned out ok, independently of having been breastfed or not. However, this was something I wanted to do.
Working in the pediatric field, I knew beforehand not to expect breastfeeding to be an easy breeze. “You have to try for at least two weeks”, everyone would say. “Breastfeeding is hard, but once you are past the hump, you can do it with one hand”, others would say.
Much like my plans for labor and delivery (read here), I knew to expect the worst. And still, once again it was even harder than I imagined!
After a “failed” birth plan, I was even more determined to make breastfeeding work. After all, I had to do something right to give my baby a healthy start, right? These were just some of the mommy guilt thoughts that would haunt my already crazy hormonal brain.
Despite having ended up with a c-section, my postpartum experience at Newton-Wellesley hospital was impeccable. I was still in the recovery room right outside the OR when a loving nurse handed me my baby girl and helped her latch on. A modified version of my birth plan had materialized.
We spent 5 days in the hospital. It was the best thing that could have happened to us! For 4 of those days we had the same loving day nurse, Carol, who was even better than all the lactation consultants combined. She encouraged me, helped me try different strategies, and advocated for me! Due to the c-section my milk came in pretty late and the baby’s weight was dropping. The unsolicited suggestions to supplement with formula were starting to make an appearance here and there from some of the docs and nurses. I fed that child all day and night! My husband would be feeding me while I was feeding her! It was truly a team effort but we left the hospital 100% breastfeeding and at her first pediatric visit her weight was slowly picking up.
At this point, we had hit some of the milestones of the breastfeeding mom: cracked nipples, painful feedings, correcting lathes, worries about supply…
At home I continued feeding a very hungry child that would move those little arms around in such a frantic speed that she would make latching a quest! The pain continued and was not getting better. “But they said 2 weeks! And it’s just getting worst! What’s wrong with me?” – screamed the raging postpartum hormones who also made those tears fall down my face. “If this is going to be like this all the time, I’m giving up! But I can’t give up! I want to do this for her so much!” – the mommy guilt would say while some curse words flew out my mouth due to the pain. “Ok, let’s see what the Internet says“, suggested the cucu worried mom! And the internet gave me this: “It’s normal. It will get better. After your past the hump it’s so natural.” It seemed impossible to me at that point that breastfeeding would ever be enjoyable. That onde day I would actually relax and just be able to take in the beauty of a child feeding serenely at the breast, just like what you see in the poster pictures.
I went to the lactation consultant several times. Nothing seemed to be wrong. The baby was latching on correctly. My nipples were still cracked and sore but I had already been prescribed APNO. Maybe try the nipple shield again? No, thanks, last time it just make it worst! I was beginning to despair! I was going to quit on breastfeeding. I could just feel it. And it felt like a horrible defeat. I couldn’t birth my baby naturally and now I can’t feed her naturally either. I am failing as a woman and as a mother. These are the dramatic thoughts that race through your crazy postpartum mind.
Thankfully, that same week, the baby had a pediatric visit. As the wonderful doctor she is, she asked how I was doing. After a mini breakdown explaining what was going on she finally was the first to acknowledge that this was indeed not a normal experience. I sighed in relief. And all of a sudden, she remembers! Baby had a yeast infection very early on. “You have mastitis!”, she said. “People normally only think of it if baby had thrush, but it can also happen in this scenario! You must call you OB’s office right away.” I had actually read about the symptoms of mastitis in a book (link to book here) and thought that it might be what was going on. However, that hypothesis had been put aside at the last lactation visit. This comes to show that you should always follow your instincts. You know your body better than anyone else.
So, after 3 days of exclusively pumping, in order to give those cracked nipples and painful milk ducts a rest, medication for both of us, and the re-introduction of the nipple shield one last time… We finally made it past the hump! It was getting easier by the day and all that crazy-cursing-producing-pain was disappearing. The pain I had been feeling was definitely not normal! Now, I was left with the normal discomforts of healing nipples and engorgement, which were in comparison much easier to deal with.
After the hell of the first month of breastfeeding we finally started to find our groove. My tears and her frustration slowly transitioned into tender smiles while stroking her little hands or fine hair while watching her nurse and to a satisfied and calmer baby at the breast. The books, the Internet, the people… they were all right. It does get better and it can even get enjoyable! Who would have guessed? When you are in the midst of the darkness that the beginning of breastfeeding can bring it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You just want to give up! After all, there’s no harm in a bottle. Your feelings are going crazy, your body aches, and you are exhausted. No one can do this for you. You are reaching your breaking point and you know it. Feelings of despair, guilt, and anticipated grief take over you. For some, due to several and different reasons, you’ve reached your finish line and are ready to accept it and move on. For some lucky others, it is true – if you keep on going and find the right supports, that light will slowly start to shine and you will find yourself on the other side. A much nicer, brighter, and happier side of breastfeeding. It’s finally spring after a long hard winter!
This post is also available in: Portuguese (Portugal)